Perhaps inevitably, John Parish remains best known for his longstanding and fruitful artistic relationship with PJ Harvey, although this has often threatened to overshadow his own work. Parish’s name is everywhere in 2013, however, with production credits on the excellent new albums from Rokia Traoré and Jenny Hval (artists at very different points on the musical spectrum) and also with this engaging collection of his prolific soundtrack work.
Citing the likes of John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and early John Carpenter as major influences, Parish is clearly very much at home working in the film music idiom. A more contemporary reference point might be the soundtrack work of Tindersticks, who have worked extensively with the great French film director Claire Denis, and whose film music occupies a similarly evocative and melancholy space as much of Parish’s music here. Parish has a similarly productive collaboration with the director Patrice Toye.
Mostly recorded in his home studio, much of Screenplay has a delicate, homespun quality. It is a long way from the more manipulative aspects of composition for film. Rather than instructing the listener as to what they should be feeling, this music works in hints, suggestions and implications. The opening Katharina, written for the film Little Black Spiders, certainly has touches of sadness, but it also has a resonance and quiet authority that might hint at brighter horizons.
Divorcing Parish’s screen work from his other recordings might in fact be a little misleading. Listening to The Girls Rehearse evokes memories of the bucolic but menacing strum of Let England Shake whilst The Minotaur Pt. 2, which features Spanish vocalist Maika Makovski has some of the raw urgency of earlier PJ Harvey, or the considered simplicity of Eels, with whom Parish worked on their Souljacker album.
Whilst some of these pieces are clearly functional snippets rather than fully fledged themes, there is also plenty of thematic development on display. The progressively thickening textures of River suggest the forcefulness of nature, whilst LBS/End Titles draws emotion from cycled samples before the majestic, curiously uplifting theme bursts through. Typically for Parish, this music is economical and sparing – with no notes wasted and no extraneous flourishes. Everything feels directed towards a wider meaning or purpose.
Parish also remains interested in sound in the broadest sense. Many of these musical sketches begin with speech or dialogue (presumably drawn from the films themselves), and it is as much the excoriating sound of the lead guitar that creates the scorched effect of L’Enfant D’en Haut as it is what is actually played. Characteristic features such as these ensure that Screenplay works as a cohesive listening experience in its own right, as well as being a compilation of some of the highlights of Parish’s film work.